Trennis Grant asked God to bless him with the opportunity to become a head baseball coach by the age of 35. Our Heavenly Father placed the Canton, Mississippi native on a fast track, granting his wish two years earlier at 33.
Call it a blessing of “historical proportions.”
When Dillard faces Louisiana Christian in a weekend series January 27-28, Grant and the Bleu Devil baseball team will make history. For the first time in the 87-year existence of the Gentilly institution, Dillard University will field a varsity baseball team.
“I’ll never get this opportunity again. How many people can say they started a program from scratch and if it’s successful, like we know it will be, it will be tremendous on our outlook and its effect on the City of New Orleans. We are excited, looking forward to it and it’s going to be fun,” said Grant.
Dr. Kiki Baker-Barnes, now the permanent Gulf Coast Athletic Conference commissioner, hired Grant while she served as athletics director at Dillard. She’s certain that she hired the right man.
“He clearly understands what it means to build a program. He’s young and experienced and he has energy. It’s hard to build a program but he understands the key pieces like recruiting and having the right people on the staff. He showed up with a plan that was impressive.”
Grant served as an assistant coach at Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Alabama A&M. He was also recruiting coordinator at A&M.
Ah yes. Recruiting.
Dillard has a roster of 38 players. How do you sell student-athletes on a program with no practice field, no home park, no uniforms and no history?
“I sold them on me. I sold them on the opportunity to play for a coach who has been at three different Division I institutions, been to multiple playoffs, who has recently been part of a program (Southern) that won a SWAC title. I sold them on Dillard academics because we all know Dillard is a prestigious institution.”
Coach Grant admits he experienced some anxious moments last spring when he realized he didn’t have one player committed and no one was really paying attention to his pleas. That first recruit is always the most important, and in this case, he paid dividends.
A junior college transfer from Greenville, Mississippi named Ty McCollough can forever say he was a trailblazer.
“I started recruiting in April of last year and after that initial signing the flood gates opened,” said Grant.
“I think we just needed one recruit to say “yes” and once I posted it on Instagram and Twitter the other guys looked him up. That was in April. By June we had about 25 guys committed.
Trennis Grant is the personification of enthusiasm and optimism. After all, usually with a brand-new program comes funding shortages–a problem that could be magnified when you are forced to play nearly all of your games on the road.
The Bleu Devils were able to raise $36,000 in a short period of time. That should help with the travel budget.
Coach Grant hopes Dillard getting into the baseball world will draw more African Americans to the game. He has been keenly aware of scant interest in the game among African Americans.
The graduate of Arkansas Tech understands that for many the game is expensive. However, he has an interesting suggestion of at least one way to alleviate the problem.
“We need to tell the football coaches to stop telling kids they should only play football. I understand they get full rides to college but in my opinion, you are a more sought-after athlete if you play more than one sport. I was a two-sport athlete in high school (football/baseball) but they came after me harder in baseball because they knew I had that toughness and character.”
“We’ve just got to continue to knock on doors because I think the parents just don’t know what’s available. There are programs like the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities) Program run by Major League Baseball right here at Wesley Barrow Stadium where kids can learn and play the game for free. Parents just don’t know and we have to tell them.”
Of course, Trennis Grant doesn’t care what color the players are. He’s looking toward the initial Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament, sponsored by Hope Credit Union, April 28-30 at the Hank Aaron Sports Academy in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Bleu Devils are back in the game. According to the commissioner, baseball will have a long range effect on Gentilly Boulevard.
“It gives the Dillard community a chance to mobilize behind the university,” says Baker-Barnes. “During the spring after basketball is over we hear about baseball teams at UNO, Xavier, Loyola or Delgado. Now during the spring Dillard won’t be out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Nowhere during the spring-sports cycle do you hear anything about Dillard. Now you will. It keeps Dillard relevant.”